FINDING NEW VOICES
DEFINING NEW GENRES
Is there a crisis of quality?
There are some panic pants in the publishing industry who would like to blame the current ‘challenging situation’ on the phenomenon that is self-publishing. The ease with which anyone, and I mean anyone, can piece together some words, call them a book and throw them at an ever eager readership, particularly in the digital space, is simpler than ever. There are a huge number of ever-increasing channels for getting your words out there, from Lulu to Smashwords, Amazon to Booktango. Add to that the self-publishing companies that will happily slip your words between the covers for a healthy fee and you can be a fully-fledged author quicker than Bloomsbury can write Harry Potter royalty cheques. Why on earth would you need a publisher? All they’ll do is give you 10%, pocket the rest, and then fail to market your cherished book effectively while blaming centralised buying (I hate centralised buying).
The theory is that us publishers give the whole getting published process a sense of quality and expertise, that by giving you the benefit of our extensive wisdom and skill your writing will be elevated to the realms of ‘literature’ and read by thousands. Or at least more than your Mum, that bloke who stalks you and a few guilty mates. We are also the only true purveyors of taste and that is why we apparently loathe the self-publishing phenomenon – it means anyone who is able to put digit to keyboard can tap out whatever unstructured thoughts tumble from their mind. There is a common phrase – ‘there’s a book in everyone’. In response publishers are often heard replying ‘and we wish it had stayed there’.
However, let’s be honest, publishers are just a guilty as anyone at befouling bookshelves with some utter drivel in the eternal search for a quick buck. I’m sure I wasn’t the only book lover who put their head in their hands this week on discovering that the next big seller will be a bonkbuster listing all the blokes that Kelly Brook has liberated of their underthings. Not exactly high art dahhhhhling. And it will no doubt sell. And sell well. This is the same publishing industry that made the quality-led (clearly) decision to publish Celebrate, the rightly slammed party planning book by Pippa Middleton. It sold incredibly poorly proving that 1) there is such a thing as justice; 2) owning a much photographed derriere doesn’t guarantee book sales; and 3) readers clearly have a shed-load more taste than some publishers. These books are not driven by quality, or the love of the written form, they’re driven by commercial reality and the need to make revenue – and they often fill a market need.
I’m sure many self published authors would also like to make revenue, but often their initial motivations are very different. They have something to say, they have burning desire to write, and they simply must get those words out there to be read. Where many seem to fall down is that in the headlong rush to publish they don’t take the time to develop, nurture, or enhance their words. Or in many cases actually bother to edit them at all. I’ve read some wonderful self published books. But also some absolute shockers. But all of those books, good and bad, could have been improved with some time, some thought and some expert input.
You see, there isn’t a crisis of quality. Far from it. Whether from publishing houses (the big six and the valiant independents), or the ever-growing stream of self publishing authors, there are more wonderful words out there than ever before. We’ve always had incredible books. We’ve always had some absolute stinkers as well – that’s the nature of writing and publishing. There will always be Jordan biographies (god help us) and there will always be those titles that sell on the nature of the content rather than the quality of the content itself (50 Shades anyone). There will be the wonderful list of Booker choices, and the little known gems that rise to the top of the Waterstones feature table like beacons of literary light in the darkness. Or a Lighthouse. See what I did there? And best of all one reader’s book of joy will forever be another’s poisoned page. That’s the pleasure of taste and choice. Because the wonder of words is that they’re a wonder. Even the poorly written ones.
Crisis of quality? No. Crisis of confidence while an industry goes through continuing change and upheaval after years of tradition, stasis and yes, complacency? Absolutely. But to quote a colourful mobile provider, the future is bright. Because more people than ever before are writing, and have the means to write, and more readers are discovering their words. All that provides is competition and excitement and opportunity – and a wealth of choice for the reader. And for those publishers and indie authors who can find a way to embrace the changes in publishing and exploit them, who can take their individual energies and enthusiasm for the written word and collaborate and harness them…well, they are going to produce some truly wonderful books.